Lashes, Haircuts, Time and Healing…

Lashes, Haircuts, Time and Healing…

My eyelashes are falling out again. My doctor said that that was pretty normal in the year after completing treatment — that she knew one woman whose lashes had fallen out and grown back again FIVE(!) times in the following year. When my eyes get all irritated a few times a day, it’s just a “hey, stop and reflect for a moment” reminder.

Some days it is reassuring and feels triumphant to think about where I was a year ago. Most days I feel thankful, but it’s an exhausted-kind-of-thankful. An “oh my god, I just ran a marathon and you’re telling me I have to keep walking?!” kind. I absolutely adore my job and everyone I work with and all of my friends and all of that, but there’s a part of me that just wishes I could go live on a beach for about a month, and then come back, feeling more ready for the rest of the world and life and weird times that will require energy, resistance, defiant joy and transformative love each day.

How do people do this — come back from the strange semi-there world of cancer and treatment and recovery — if they don’t adore their job, their life, the world and people all around them? It’s hard enough when so many of those factors are so right that you feel like you’ve won the work/friend/community lottery.

Some days the sadness and anger bubbles alongside that thankfulness. One of my guiding reassurances since my teen years has been that thankfulness crowds out a lot of unpleasant emotions. That’s true, but it only seems realistic to recognize that those other things also have a right to exist, to be felt, to be processed over time, to be channeled (oh, oh, I am SO practiced at channeling feelings), and perhaps, eventually to be let go.

That is part of the fundamental work of healing, but for me — someone who has always taken a long time to process things but a short time to check most things off a to-do list, — it’s disconcerting to realize that that healing has a longer timeframe than I had initially thought or that I would wish it would.

Synthesis is still more challenging than it used to be. Energy/fatigue is still a challenge. It takes me at least three times as long to do most things as I think it will. I know it will continue to get better. When I look back, I can see it getting better, but it’s hard to let go of the fantasy that life after treatment bounces back quickly to what used to feel comfortable and normal. I imagined a different timeframe. I needed to believe in a different timeframe in order to meet treatment with the attitude I wanted to have. My stubbornness/tenacity can be both a gift and an additional source of frustration.

I am changed in ways I did not want to be changed. Besides the big things, the scars and the way my body cracks and pops eighteen times when I get up or sit down, my skin is different now. My immune system still has some healing to do too. I can’t usually sleep on my left side without this weird-and-kinda-annoying-but-nonetheless-helpful pillow thing. But U of M has pretty amazing resources, doctors, and occupational/physical therapy folks with an amazing breadth of knowledge to help folks with quality of life issues after treatment. And for that, dang am I thankful.

My neuropathy in my legs continues to heal, slowly but surely, and I’ve gotten help for some other post-treatment issues/challenges. Through the LiveStrong program at the local Y, I can really see advances in my strength, which is heartening — especially on the days I feel frustrated. And most days, walking down steps does not hurt at all anymore, which is a huge positive too. I can walk to or from work a day or two a week, and my doc says that my daily step amount is remarkable considering the amount of neuropathy I started out with. That’s reassuring, but also just makes me laugh at myself, because I know that part of that is just that I am tenacious (stubborn!), and like clearly measurable goals.

The hair on my head is proving sturdier than my eyelashes, and is wonderfully curly and getting healthier and softer. It’s odd that it’s so dark, but I dig the Rogue/skunk stripe at the front. I just had my second haircut, which doesn’t even seem real.

 

Time is still moving strangely, but slightly less so with each week. Instead of barely making it through a few hours of Tiny Expo post-chemo-sesh, this year I was actually able to be more involved again in the planning and execution, and I saw and hugged and helped and chatted with so many friends. Jeremy even unveiled a few new prints, and my pride in his accomplishment and refocusing make my heart swell.

The biggest thing I notice in these last few months? It’s been slow (like me!) and gradual… My own life has less moments of feeling foreign to me, which is, I think, a lot of what I’m learning real healing is about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take the Ow Out of Now…

Take the Ow Out of Now…

The holidays, overall, were really good. Got to see some folks I really love, got to spend time with them. But the holidays were also right smack still in the midst of this most intense first portion of chemo/treatment, so it meant that:

  1. I was actively losing the last of my hair — goodbye, little buzzcut!
  2. A few of the support/extra programs that would normally be available to someone going through this portion of treatment weren’t really offered ’til mid/late January. I mean, I guess if it’s taken me 30+ years to care at all about how to use an eyebrow pencil, a few weeks without that knowledge (or fullish eyebrows) isn’t exactly a disaster…
  3. Treatment could either be right before Christmas Eve Day or right before New Year’s — I went with before New Year’s and amazingly was able to rally enough to have a good early-evening NYE with some great friends and their kiddos

I am thankful for a new year, though I’ve never really been someone to be all “screw that last year!” on New Year’s or birthdays — the way I’ve always seen it, time just keeps going, and even if it’s fun or useful to mark it off, in the past it’s seemed a bit arbitrary to celebrate Jan 1.

Time and life seem to just involve a lot of different cycles — sometimes you are aware of them and sometimes you aren’t until you are smack dab IN them. I’m aware of a lot of cycles right now. I’m at a good place in this cycle, even if I have a little cold.

Next week I’ll have the last of the “AC” cycles that comprise the first part of my treatment. I’m thankful that our original notes were wrong and that I only need 4 (not 8) of those. I’m not exactly looking forward to it, but some adjustments in medication as well as acupuncture made round #3 more deal-with-able than round #2. They helped take the “ow” out of that now. After 3 weeks to recover from the AC, I’ll be on to the second portion of chemo — twelve weekly sessions of Taxol.

Even when I’m in the midst of a considerable amount of ow, I just need to remember to do one thing at a time — the next moment, breath or step could be better, and eventually, it probably will be. Again, these are cycles, and now that I have a sense of that, it seems more doable to ride each one through.

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photo: detail of a great illustration from the AMAZING catalog for the Walker Art Center's Hippie Modernism exhibition, which will be on view at Cranbrook in June, and at the Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive after that

 

 

Sunshine, Jams, Good News!

Sunshine, Jams, Good News!

It’s sunny and beautiful in Michigan today, but it also finally got around to getting cold. Might snow tonight, which I’m actually kinda excited for (don’t get annoyed at me!). It is almost Thanksgiving after all!

We got some mostly-good news as a follow-up to last week’s surgery!

Still waiting on some puzzle pieces (mostly genetic information that will influence chance of recurrence/consideration of additional surgery), but here’s the breakdown so far —

The biggest significant thumbs-up is that the surgeon achieved “clear margins,” which basically just means they have proof through pathology that they were able to get the whole tumor out with a small bit of regular tissue around. Awesome.

Although the growth was slightly larger than they initially thought, it has not spread to the surrounding lymph nodes. Hooray! This is a BIG relief! This likely puts me at Stage 2, but stage 2a, rather than 2b. We will double-check this distinction with the Drs in a big ol’ follow-up appointment on Monday.

The type of cancer that I have (we’ve known this since initial biopsy/diagnosis) is called triple-negative (TNBC), and cells can still spread via the bloodstream, so of course it’s important to follow surgery with full chemo and radiation. But, chemo and radiation were in the plan already, we just didn’t know exactly what types of chemo.

the_ronettes
dream hair

Now taking favorite wig-shop recommendations. If I’m gonna lose my hair, I may as well have a sweet Ronettes ‘do or at least Pleasure Seekers-style bangs/long hair for a little bit!

The good news about triple-negative is that although this type used to be one of the scarier breast cancer diagnoses, research on it has come exceptionally far in the last ten years, and it looks like it sometimes actually responds better to chemotherapy than other types. Its lack of extra hormone receptors also helped me feel more OK doing all the fertility-preservation stuff, and it’s especially lucky that I caught it early, as that improves my prognosis greatly!

So, all-in-all, I’m feeling good (with occasional pangs of nervousness, I mean I’m human), about the outlook and the 6-8 months ahead. It will still be a long haul, but after our introduction to the medical oncologist (chemo expert doc) on Monday, we’ll have a better idea of what things will look like ahead.

My friend Tori and I have had a long history of swapping music and mix CDs (even if we haven’t done it as much the last couple years), and she’s always had great taste.

In fact, she was the very person who introduced me to Chandra’s Transportation EP waaay back when, so it seemed especially perfect timing that a few other friends on tour this last week actually got to catch Chandra perform! File that under things I never thought would happen but am totally psyched did/do. Life, man!

So, in honor of today’s sunshine and good news, I’m sharing a mix she made for me to get me through this last month or so. ❤

Positive Vibrations for your Friday!

*Regular Spotify disclaimer — if you hear something you like on here, think about buying the record or an actual download o’ the song. Art and music are important and deserve your support, financial and otherwise!